Joe and Missy Duers are the owners of Indian Creek Distillery and historic farm in New Carlisle, Ohio. Missy’s roots in distilling heritage are deep in the family farm and in her blood. The story of her farm and the outlay of that families agricultural complex deeply mirrors those which we write of here at the Alchemist Cabinet reflecting Southern Indiana and may in fact be the best extant example operating today of what the small Hoosier Distilleries would have been like and how they operated. A place such as Indian Creek Distillery is a dream come true for a distilling history geek such as myself and plans are underway now to visit the site with many of my distilling friends this summer as the family mill on the farm celebrates it’s 200’th birthday!
Tell us about the history of the farm and the agricultural complex, when did distilling start and stop and what kinds of products were the Staley’s making on the farm?
Historians today call my family’s 200 year old farm a “Pioneer Agricultural/Industrial Complex” because it represents the Frontier enterprise of sawmill, gristmill and distillery located on one parcel of land and owned and operated by one family. The gristmill ground the grain used in the distillery while the sawmill provided wood for the barrel staves and fuel. The conjunction of gristmill, sawmill and distillery became the pattern for thousands of rural Ohio complexes in the first half of the nineteenth century. Where once these were common, they have now virtually disappeared with one exception- our beloved Staley farm located in rural Bethel Township in Miami County Ohio.
What makes this complex even more incredible is that my great great great grandfather Elias built ALL the buildings mentioned above; he embodied the true early American entrepreneurial spirit! The gristmill was built in 1818 for one John Wrench by the three Staley brothers, Elias, Henry and David, all of whom were skilled millwrights. Mr. Wrench died soon after the completion of the gristmill and Elias purchased the 160 farm from his estate.
Elias then built the brick distillery in 1820. It operated for 100 years until Prohibition in 1920. Three generations of Staleys distilled- first Elias, then his three sons (Simon my great great grandfather, my great great Uncle Andy and my great great Uncle John) and then by Simon’s son- George Washington Staley (my great grandfather).
My family’s “Hickory” Rye Whiskey was well known and very popular and was the primary spirit distilled and sold here on the farm. They also crafted a bourbon and other whiskeys as well (depending on what grains were available from the grist mill), but Rye was their mainstay. We have a copy of the Rye mash bill because my great grandfather George thoughtfully wrote it down. This is the recipe that we use today for our Rye whiskey.
I’m presuming you had access to all kinds of unique production records and hand written notes through your family, could you highlight a few of your favorite finds for us? Anything surprising or anything in particular that sticks out as interesting? Were there by chance any yeast recipes and have you tried replicating those?
Oh yes! I always say that my family (myself included) are not hoarders! We are preservationists of our love and the journey of the farm and for the loved ones that have gone before us and of the ideals by which they lived. Hence, I have LOTS OF STUFF! And I am thankful. Thankful that every generation truly “cared” about what they did here, how they did it and how they lived it in their day to day lives and so they kept the records, letters, manuals, photographs, small to large items and most importantly- the farm itself intact.
Here are a few “note”worthy items:
Here is a note that was written to my great great Uncle Andrew that I love! It shows the humor of these old boys and of course, it has to do with whiskey!
There are also notes from local doctors that state “…for medicinal purposes only”. How great is that!
Also, stillhouse production records, letters from Union soldiers requesting Staley Rye Whiskey and sales ledgers.
YEAST– Joe and believe that they would have made old fashioned STOCK YEAST and would have made enough to last through the distilling season and used from that supply, DAY YEAST which would have been ample for that day’s fermentation. We have thought about scrapping a sample from the old fermenters, but have just not gotten to it (yet). We have recipes for the STOCK YEAST and the DAY YEAST.
I understand the distilling equipment was hidden away so that the excise agents couldn’t find it? Was there a thought within the family that one day the family would be back in the business? What drove you to jump back in?
Yes, everything from the distillery- the stills, the fermenters, the mash tubs, etc. were hidden on the second floor of the Warehouse by George, my great grandfather. I grew up knowing (and loving) my family’s distilling history. From 1933 & throughout the next two generation(s) (my grandmother & mother) and then me until the early 2000s, none of us EVER thought that we would have a distillery once again here on the farm!
It was the change in Ohio’s distillery laws that allowed Joe and I to resurrect my family’s distillery today. We felt that it was the only thing missing on the farm- since we had the mill, the sawmill, the old distillery warehouse and other smaller distillery buildings, it made sense to us to “bring distilling” back to the farm once again and to make it a viable farm for future generations.
So being a distilling dork, I have to ask, do you guys know the providence and manufacturer of the stills? Do the stills themselves have names? When you put them back into production was there much work that needed to be done to them?
We have three theories: the first being that Elias hired a coppersmith in Dayton to build the stills for him. Secondly, he owned a grist mill and a distillery in Dayton prior to purchasing our farm, so he could possibly have brought those stills with him when he moved to Miami County. The third theory involves the Staley’s longstanding relationship with the Stanley Gypsys who were headquartered in Dayton. Stanley Gypsys were known as outstanding coppersmiths. So again, perhaps Elias commissioned a Gypsy to craft his stills because they came to the farm on a regular basis selling their wares from their beautifully brightly painted wagons with bells “a ringin” announcing their arrival!
The stills are not stamped with a maker’s mark…
When Joe and I brought the stills from the old warehouse to the newly built distillery in 2011, we found that they needed no work at all- just a GOOD cleaning with citric acid and one tiny tiny seam that needed a bit of copper soldering. We then placed the old girls in the fire boxes and put them back to work. Allowing all that whiskey makin’ memory to come alive again in their bellies! We LOVE our old girls!
Do you use the mill to grind your grains for your distillery? Are you using any heritage style grains in your spirits, any corn varieties that may have been used in those days? Was there any record of brandy having been made on site as well?
The grist mill stopped working in 1905, but we do grind our grain fresh for every distillation with our 1890 FOOS Mill that was purchased new (by my family) and used in the grist mill alongside other smaller grain mills.
At this time we do not use any heritage grains, but source the rye (old seed variety) and (non GMO) corn from a farmer in Darke County. Our barley is local as well and comes from a farmer about 10 minutes away.
We lease our farm ground to a young man who farms organically, but have not contracted (yet) with him to use heritage seed. This is definitely a short term goal for us.
A little dandelion wine for personal use (and yes, I have the recipe for this too), but no brandy that we have record of.
Tell us a little about the products you are making at the distillery now and about any special plans you have to celebrate the 200 year birthday of the family mill this year.
We offer 4 traditional spirits:
Elias Staley White Rye Whiskey
Staley Rye Whiskey
Andy’s Old No.5 Bourbon
Dandy John’s White Corn Whiskey
And we have plans for other Ryes and Bourbons plus occasionally we offer special reserves of unique small batch whiskeys. Our latest offering was:
Copper Arrow, a Staley Maple Rye Whiskey. Delicious!
“The photo of me and my old rye is the only existing bottle of my family’s rye whiskey. It is at least 100 years old and has been a treasured “treasure” for generations now… I keep it at the house in the same closet in a paper bag where it has been for all these years. Fortunately, they saved this! You’ve got to remember- my family were true Frontier distillers and never bottled their whiskey to sell- it was always sold by the barrel or the jug. So this is extra special because they saved it in a bottle and hid it away from sight in the closet. It has paraffin with string for a closure. It is BEAUTIFUL!”
The weekend of October 5th & 6th we will be hosting a 200 year Birthday Party for the Grist Mill featuring a local watercolor artist by the name of Roger Haas. Roger would have been 100 years old on October 5th. He had a special relationship with my family because he rendered many many paintings of my family farm beginning in the late 1940s through the early 1960s. A favorite of his was the grist mill. So, his son and I thought that a “combined” birthday celebration would be fitting. We will showcase the many paintings that we have in our personal collection and the Haas family will offer selections for sale. This special gallery showing will be held inside the gristmill.